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"So how did it go?" Allen asked hopefully as Brady walked in the door.
"Juana now has a Florida Driver's license." Brady said in an exhausted voice.
"You look tired, what happened?" Allen asked with concern as he led Brady into the living room.
"Ricardo." Brady said as he slumped into a chair.
"Was he misbehaving?"
"No. Not really. He was just full of energy and wanting to play. Next time we do something like that, someone will need to stay home with the kids. Ricardo and Edovina were miserable, I was miserable and if it weren't for Juana being so happy about getting her Florida License, I'm sure she would have been miserable too." Brady finished in an exhausted whisper.
"Dad?" Jake called from the doorway of the living room.
"It's okay, you can come in and show your Uncle Brady." Allen said with a smile.
Jake and Xain walked into the living room and stood anxiously.
Brady looked at the two boys, then shook his head to be sure his eyes weren't playing tricks on him.
Xain had his jet black hair styled a little differently from normal. Nothing drastic, but different. Jake had his dishwater blond hair cut in the exact same style as Xain's.
"Well, what do you think Uncle Brady?" Jake asked hopefully.
"I think it looks great guys. I guess you look like twin brothers from different planets." Brady said as he broke into a genuine smile.
Allen looked toward the door and said, "Come on in guys."
Kenny, Kevin and Reuben walked into the living room with identical hair styles.
Brady broke into an involuntary laugh before he caught it and said, "You three look great. When I saw Kenny's hairstyle the first time I thought it was one of a kind, but you've proven me wrong."
"Stair-step triplets." Allen said with a smile.
"You guys really do look great. All of you. How was your trip to the barber shop?" Brady asked as he relaxed back into the chair.
"Father asked that I cover my ears." Xain said before anyone else could say anything.
"I believed that he was trying to conceal the fact that I am Vulcan. However, he was protecting me." Xain said and gave a look of appreciation toward Allen.
"I figured that Bobby would let out one or two squeals of delight and thought that it might be painful to Xain's more sensitive hearing." Allen said in explanation.
"I take it you were right?" Brady asked with a smile.
"I was sure the mirrors were going to shatter before he was finished." Allen said with a chuckle.
"Uncle Brady, can we work on the shelf for my models now?" Kenny asked hopefully.
"Sure, we'd better get started if we're going to finish before I leave tonight." Brady said as he got up from his chair.
"I need to call Dan, then I'd better get my things together for my meeting with Chip and Josh. What are you guys going to do?" Allen asked as he also stood.
"Reuben is going to teach me some more reading." Kevin said quickly.
"That sounds great. Maybe you could show your Uncle Chip what you've learned when he gets here?" Allen suggested.
"That would be cool. Let's go so I can learn some more." Kevin said with excitement and ran out of the room followed by Reuben.
"I believe we should investigate the available supplies for meal preparation." Xain said seriously.
"That's a good idea. Let me know what you need me to buy." Allen said with a smile.
Xain turned to Jake and asked, "Would you assist me?"
"Yeah." Jake said with a smile and followed Xain out of the room.
Brady looked down to see Kenny's pleading and impatient expression.
"Okay, I'm ready." Brady said with a smile and followed Kenny out of the room.
* * * * *
Allen walked into the study and closed the door.
After less than a minute of looking he found the business card that he wanted and dialed the number.
"Dan?" Allen asked hopefully into the phone.
"Allen?" Dan asked, a little worried about the tone in Allen's voice.
"I may have a problem and I need your advice." Allen said apprehensively.
"Well you caught me at a good time. What's on your mind?" Dan asked in a casual manner.
"Jake had an anxiety attack last night, I think he scared about ten years off my life." Allen said with weak humor.
"Was he able to talk about it?" Dan asked with concern.
"Yeah. It was a nightmare about when he was prostituting himself. He was scared half to death." Allen said seriously.
"I didn't expect this so soon, but believe it or not, I think it's a good sign." Dan said with assurance in his tone.
"A couple more good signs like that and I'm going to need intensive therapy." Allen said, hoping it sounded like a joke.
"I think it means he's trying to heal on some level. Of course I'll need to talk with him to be sure, but I believe it's a step in the right direction." Dan said seriously.
"Good. I think all the boys are going to need help dealing with things, but Jake seems to need it the most." Allen said with full worry in his voice.
"When would be a good time for me to come over and talk with the boys? I'd like to talk to them in an informal setting for the first few times to put them at ease, then later we could have the more structured meetings at my office." Dan said in thought.
"Well, Xain's father is coming over this afternoon. After that I don't have any firm plans, so whenever you'd like." Allen said, thinking about all the things he needed to get accomplished.
"Would you mind if I came over this evening? I could spend a few minutes talking to Jake about last night and then just hang around and talk with you and the boys for a while. I could get some general information so I'd have an idea of what to pursue in the 'official' meetings." Dan said professionally.
"That would be great. I don't know when Solak will be leaving, but if he's still here when you show up I don't see a problem. Seeking assistance in dealing with emotional difficulties is logical." Allen finished in a Vulcan tone of voice.
Dan chuckled and said, "I hope so. It's what I base my livelihood on."
"So you can come by anytime this evening. As far as I know we're just going to have dinner and talk with Solak." Allen said speculatively.
"I'll see you tonight then. Don't worry Allen. Kids are tough, we'll get them through this." Dan said with assurance.
"Thanks Dan. I feel a lot better." Allen said, feeling much relieved.
"Hey, that's what I do. Until tonight." Dan said and rang off.
* * * * *
Jake and Xain walked into the kitchen and Xain immediately began looking through cabinets.
"What can I do to help?" Jake asked curiously.
"It would be most efficient if you could read for me. Although I am able to translate ingredient listings and preparation instructions for myself, the process is time consuming." Xain said and handed a box to Jake.
"Whoa, you're not going to fix your dad 'Hamburger Helper' are you?" Jake asked in disbelief.
"From your reaction, I believe I will not." Xain said and put his hand out for the box.
"Then why did you want me to read it for you?" Jake asked as he gave the box back to Xain.
"I am unfamiliar with the product and the picture was appealing. If you would read the preparation instructions and ingredients to me, I would be able to determine it's suitability for our meal." Xain said as he continued to look through the cabinet.
"Give it back to me and I'll read it to you. Maybe you can make something out of it." Jake said in thought.
Xain pulled the box out of the cabinet again and handed it to Jake.
"I have a feeling that this is going to be a meal to remember." Jake said with a smile before getting down to the business of reading.
* * * * *
"How are you guys doing today?" Allen asked as he answered the door.
"Great. Are you ready to talk some business?" Chip asked casually as he preceded JC into the room.
"I sure am. I think I've got everything I'll need set up in the family room." Allen said as he escorted his guests toward the hallway.
"Uncle Chip!" Kevin screamed in delight as he barreled down the stairs.
Chip braced himself as Kevin launched into his arms.
JC took a step aside to avoid being hit by a stray limb.
Allen watched with a warm smile as Kevin nestled into Chip, hugging him with a vise-like grip.
"I missed you so much Uncle Chip." Kevin said as he snuggled for all he was worth.
"I missed you too Little One." Chip said gently then kissed Kevin on the top of the head.
JC smiled at the tender scene.
Kevin tilted his head up and stretched to kiss Chip on the mouth.
Chip looked at Allen in surprise as JC got a look of realization.
With a shrug Allen said, "I think he likes you."
"At least." Chip said hesitantly.
"Are you ready to talk business?" Allen asked as he continued toward the family room.
"Can I come too?" Kevin asked as he resisted Chip letting him go.
"It's up to your Uncle Chip." Allen said with a mischievous smile.
Chip gave Allen an aggravated 'thanks a lot' look before saying, "As long as you can stay quiet while we discuss our business it's fine with me."
"I'll be good." Kevin swore and hugged Chip even tighter.
JC followed silently, deep in thought.
* * * * *
"Hello Jake, how are you this morning?" Juana asked with happy surprise.
"Hi Mamacita. I was, I mean Xain and I were wondering if you have a few minutes to come downstairs." Jake asked nervously.
"Of course, what can I do to help?" Mamacita asked as she checked on Edovina who was happily drinking her bottle.
"We just need you to look over what we're going to fix for dinner. Xain knows how to cook, but hasn't cooked for this many people before and thought you could make sure he's not forgetting something." Jake said seriously.
"Si, yes. If you will hold Edovina. I will get Ricardo and we can go." Mamacita said quickly as she handed Edovina to Jake.
"Thanks Mamacita." Jake said quietly as he looked at the little girl in his arms.
After a minute Mamacita returned with Ricardo in tow.
"She likes you. Edovina does not like many." Juana said fondly.
"I guess she's used to seeing me." Jake said softly as he looked at her eyes darting around alertly.
"Come, we will go." Mamacita said as she headed for the door.
* * * * *
"Father, please pardon the interruption." Xain said from the door of the family room.
"It's okay Xain, come in." Allen said as he looked up from his paperwork.
"We have completed the list of supplies we will need to prepare this evenings sustenance." Xain said seriously as he handed Allen the list.
After a long moment of reading Allen said, "I can't begin to guess what you're fixing from this list of ingredients, but I should be able to get everything you need."
Xain nodded once and turned to leave the room.
"Did you take into account that we're going to have Juana and her family here for the meal?" Allen asked with concern.
"Yes Father, I sought Mrs. Vasquez' advice before compiling the list of ingredients. She agrees that there will be sufficient food for all attending." Xain said efficiently.
"It is logical to seek the advice of those with greater experience in a situation such as this. Good work Xain." Allen said in his Vulcan demeanor.
Xain nodded again and walked out of the room.
* * * * *
"That wasn't nearly as difficult as I thought it would be." Allen said as he looked over the papers he'd just finished signing.
"It helps when you don't have to do a lot of negotiation or watch out for hidden traps. Even though I can play head games and do legal maneuverings with the best of them, I still prefer to do straightforward business when possible." Chip said as he gathered his paperwork.
"Uncle Chip. Can I show you something?" Kevin asked quietly from Chip's lap.
"We're finished Kevin. Go ahead." Chip said with a smile.
Kevin pulled a folded piece of paper from his pocket and held it out so Chip could read it with him.
"The... boy... sat in the... red... c... car." Kevin read slowly with full concentration.
Chip hugged Kevin tightly and whispered, "That's incredible Kevin. You read that perfectly."
Kevin closed his eyes and soaked in the wonderful feeling of love and pride.
JC looked on passively as his thoughts solidified.
A ringing cell phone interrupted the moment.
"Yes, this is Allen Thompson." Allen said seriously.
"Oh, well I just moved yesterday and haven't put in a change of address yet. If I give you the new address, can you bring it over here?" Allen asked slowly.
After getting a positive response, Allen gave the address and rang off.
"It was a courier service. He says he has something for me from Carl's lawyer." Allen said in thought.
"Is that a problem?" Chip asked with concern at Allen's expression.
"I don't know. It just seems strange. We had everything prepared before his death and I thought it was all taken care of. I don't know what this could be about." Allen said with concern.
"Well it won't do any good to worry about it until whatever it is gets delivered." Chip said as he held Kevin tenderly.
"I guess not. Would you like to go up and see what Kenny and Brady are up to?" Allen asked as he stood.
Chip urged Kevin off his lap and stood, automatically wrapping an arm around JC.
"That sounds like a good idea. I haven't seen the upstairs since you've moved in." Chip said as he prepared to leave.
Kevin took hold of Chip's hand before he could take two steps.
* * * * *
"We can prepare the midday meal." Xain said seriously.
"Si, I am sure you can. But if I prepare..." Juana paused to think of the correct English word, "...Lunch. Then you are free to work on dinner."
Xain considered the statement and finally said, "The division of labor you propose is logical. While you prepare the midday meal, Jake can do the necessary preparation for the fruit salad and I can prepare the marinade for the meat."
Since everyone was in agreement, they went to work.
"Mama?" Reuben called from the kitchen doorway.
Juana sat the pan she was holding on the stove and walked to her son.
"Mijo, su pelo... hair is..." Juana sputtered before pulling Reuben into a hug.
"Do you like it Mama?" Reuben asked in a small voice.
"Si, yes. Very handsome." Juana said, then kissed Reuben on the cheek.
Ricardo ran from the kitchen table where he'd been coloring and held up his arms, wanting to be hugged and kissed too.
Of course Mamacita hugged him and fussed over him so he didn't feel left out.
"Ricardo." Reuben said to get his brother's attention.
Ricardo looked at Reuben curiously.
Reuben held his arms out, much as Ricardo had done.
Ricardo moved into Reuben's arms cautiously but was soon happily wrapped in a tight hug.
After a long minute of hugging, Reuben led Ricardo back to the kitchen table and began to tell him all about the night before.
* * * * *
"How's it going guys?" Allen asked as he led Chip, JC and Kevin into the boy's room.
"Kenny's going to get out his best model, and once we're sure it will fit in the space we've made for it, we'll go to the store to get the supplies." Brady said with a grand smile.
"It took me four months to make this." Kenny said with pride.
He carefully opened the box and pulled back a covering of tissue paper to reveal his pride and joy.
Chip stared in disbelief as Kenny gently lifted his prize for all to see.
"It's the Reliant." Brady said with an expression close to shock.
"What in God's name? ...I mean, it's nice Kenny, but why don't you have a model of the Enterprise?" Chip sputtered as JC discretely rubbed the small of his back to calm him.
"I used my birthday money and my Christmas money last year to buy this. The really nice Enterprise model cost nearly twice as much as this one so I couldn't get it. Look at this." Kenny said and flipped a switch on the underside to light the fiber optic lights throughout the ship.
"Lieutenant Thompson, are you ready to go get those supplies?" Chip asked in a serious voice.
"Yes Sir." Brady said, coming to attention.
"Then I'll drive you where you need to go. I have some paperwork that needs to be filed." Chip said and turned to leave.
"Can I go with you too?" Kevin asked hopefully.
Chip looked at Kevin and his expression softened noticeably.
"Ask your Poppa if it's okay." Chip said with a small smile.
Kevin looked at Allen with his most pitiful begging expression and asked, "Can I, pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeese?"
Allen couldn't restrain himself and hugged Kevin before he said, "Of course you can, Little One. Go and have fun with your Uncle Chip."
"Thanks Poppa." Kevin said with a grand smile and ran to take Chip's hand again.
"Come on Kenny. I can't do this without you." Brady said as he noticed that Kenny was standing, looking unsure of what to do.
JC watched as the others left the room, then said to no one, "I think I'll stay here, but thanks for asking."
* * * * *
"I'm done with all the fruit. What do you want me to do now?" Jake asked as he watched Xain covering a pan of meat with plastic wrap.
"Open the bottle of wine by the sink and pour two cups of wine over the fruit." Xain said as he moved the pan of meat to the refrigerator.
"Isn't that going to make people drunk?" Jake asked as he picked up the wine bottle.
"There will be insufficient alcohol content per serving to intoxicate. The wine will serve as a cleansing agent for the pallet." Xain said as he moved to the sink and began to wash vegetables.
"Come to the table. The lunch is soon to be ready." Juana said as she carried a tray of sandwiches to the kitchen table.
Jake carefully pulled the cork from the wine bottle using a corkscrew and began to pour the wine into a measuring cup.
"This stage of preparation will be completed momentarily." Xain said as he continued to wash vegetables.
"Okay, what now?" Jake asked after pouring the wine into the bowl with the fruit.
"Stir the fruit to coat it with wine." Xain said as he turned off the water and dried his hands.
Jake took a slotted spoon from the utensil drawer and stirred the fruit, careful to see that all of it was coated.
Xain picked up a canister of sugar and moved to Jake's side.
"Now I will add sugar to accentuate the natural flavor of the fruit and wine." Xain said and began to sift a handful of sugar over the top of the fruit.
"That looks good." Jake said with a smile.
"Hey everyone, is there anything I can do to help?" JC asked hopefully.
"If you would like, you could taste the fruit to be sure the flavors are complimentary." Xain said as he put the sugar canister back in it's place, then moved to wash his hands.
JC took a fork and speared a chunk of mango.
Xain watched as JC slowly chewed the mango and considered it's flavor.
"It tastes great. But I think you need to taste it to see if it's what you're expecting." JC said with a smile.
Xain accepted a fork from Jake and speared a thick slice of kiwi fruit and tasted it critically.
"Yes. The combination of flavors is satisfactory. Jake, if you will cover the bowl and refrigerate, this stage of preparation is complete." Xain said in thought.
Jake nodded and went to work.
* * * * *
"You will join us?" Juana asked JC as more of a command than a question.
"I suppose so. No telling how long Chip will be gone." JC said absently as he sat at the kitchen table.
"Thank you for everything you did yesterday Uncle Josh... or should I call you JC?" Jake asked hesitantly.
"Whatever you're comfortable with Jake. I'll answer to either. How are you adjusting to your new family?" JC asked as he picked up a sandwich from the platter in the middle of the table.
"Fine. I still have to check every so often to see if it's for real." Jake said with a smile.
"I know that feeling. I'm glad it's working out. How about you Xain?" JC asked casually.
Xain considered the question carefully before answering, "Father has given valuable guidance, Jake has given insight into the family dynamic and my contribution to the family unit. Kenny has been providing support and serving as an example to us of what is considered to be 'normal' in this social situation. Kevin seems to be the embodiment of tenacity and Reuben seems gifted with uncommon wisdom for one so young."
JC blinked, stared, then blinked again before saying, "It seems you've overcome your language barrier since yesterday too."
Jake smiled and said, "He's a quick learner."
Xain quirked an eyebrow at Jake, then turned his attention back to JC.
"So, what have you been up to Reuben?" JC asked before taking a spoon of tomato soup.
"I was telling Ricardo about Kenny's models and the shelf he's making." Reuben said seriously.
"Yeah. It's gonna be cool. I never learned to do stuff like that." Jake said seriously.
"Well I'm sure if you asked, Brady would be happy to show you." JC interjected.
"No way. With all us new guys showing up, Ken's been kind of left out." Jake said seriously.
"How so?" JC asked curiously.
"We're getting all kinds of new stuff bought for us and everyone's trying to make sure we're okay. And Ken's been standing back, watching it all happen. It's cool that Uncle Brady is doing something just with him. I'm not going to horn in on the only thing that's making him feel special." Jake said seriously.
Xain tilted his head in thought as JC said, "That's really good of you Jake. Your brothers are really lucky to have you."
Ricardo whispered into Reuben's ear, then Reuben whispered back.
Jake looked curiously at Reuben, prompting him to share.
"Ricardo wanted to know if Xain is your boyfriend." Reuben said with a timid blush.
"What did you tell him?" Jake asked hesitantly, not sure what answer he wanted to hear.
"Not yet." Reuben said with a smile and a full blush on his face.
Jake glanced at Xain and JC as he felt his own face blushing.
Allen walked into the kitchen and said, "All the paperwork is safely put away now. How is everyone doing?"
"We're find Dad." Jake said timidly as he felt his blush rise again.
Allen looked at JC curiously, but didn't ask.
JC decided to change the conversation and said, "I like the new haircuts."
Jake continued to blush, Xain looked on impassively and Reuben beamed at the praise.
After a long silence Allen finally looked to Xain and asked, "What are we going to be having for dinner tonight?"
Xain considered carefully before answering, "It will be a combination of cuisines and cooking styles. There will be sufficient variety to satisfy the eclectic tastes that I anticipate."
Allen blinked, then tilted his head before saying, "You aren't going to tell me are you?"
Jake smiled at Allen's reaction and said, "It's going to be good. Let Xain surprise you. Besides, I think he's making most of the recipes up as he goes along so nothing has real names anyway."
The sound of a doorbell interrupted the meal.
"I'll get it. It's probably the package from the lawyer." Allen said as he got up from the table.
He returned a minute later with a package that was slightly larger than a shoebox.
"What is it Dad?" Jake asked curiously.
"I have no idea." Allen said as he sat the box on the kitchen counter and started to open it.
"Well, at least it comes with instructions." Allen said with a chuckle as he showed everyone the envelope which said 'Read First'.
If you're reading this, then I'm dead. I told the lawyer to hold this for a few weeks until you've had a little time to deal with things.
There's a lot I want to say, but you know me. Oh well, I'm going to try anyway. I love you. There, I said it. Hopefully I'll be able to tell you in person before I die, but at the writing of this letter, I can only hold the words in my heart.
Anyway, on to the real point of this letter. The whole time we were together, you did everything for me and never asked for anything in return. Whenever I tried to talk to you about it, you just said that you loved me the way I am and changed the subject. Thank you for that. You knew me better than I knew myself. Your unconditional love is what I needed to heal me from the rest of my life. My time with you and Kenny has made the rest of my life worth it.
The lawyer tells me that Kenny will be living with his mother and there's no way to prevent it... I tried, I swear. He was your son in everything but blood and it isn't fair that you can't continue to be his father. Hmmm... Newsflash, Life's not fair.
So what comfort can I give you from beyond the grave? Not much, but this is the best that I can do under the circumstances. Look in the box that came with this letter. It's all I could think of to get you. I hope it brings you some comfort.
With all my love,
With tears streaking down his cheeks and shaking hands, Allen carefully opened the box.